Tuesday, 10 May 2022

Fantasy Music by Ravnskjold

Looking for some great fantasy inspired music for a D&D campaign or simply to listen to? I stumbled across a cool youtube site a few days ago. Ian Ravnskjold puts out copyright-safe music he has written and performed that you can listen to on youtube or purchase rights to use on your own project via his Patreon page. 

He's got harp music, Viking, Celtic, pirate, stuff for if you're in a library, tavern, a hidden fairy village, etc. There are some videos that are single songs, and other with several hours of really pretty music.

 

Tuesday, 3 May 2022

Movie Review: The Batman

Directed by Matt Reeves, 2022
IMDB listing

Pros: clever plot, interesting characters, Batman is a detective, good special effects and cinematography

Cons: Cat Woman’s knit mask wasn’t the best costume design choice, some overly heavy gothic architecture

As the Gotham PD celebrate their biggest bust, taking down a drug kingpin, a series of murders by ‘the Riddler’ forces Batman to investigate corruption in the city.

I’ll admit, when I heard they were making another Batman film, I thought ‘why?’. It feels like Batman’s been done to death at this point. Similarly the casting seemed bizarre, though I hadn’t seen the actors in much. But let me tell you, this is an incredible film. This feels very much like an old comic book Batman, when he was a detective, rather than a superhero.

This is a believable, gritty, corrupt Gotham where Batman has been operating for 2 years. He has no extreme equipment beyond a souped up car. It was awesome seeing him solve puzzles and try to figure out what’s going on.

The Riddler has always been one of my favourite Batman villains, and he’s portrayed brilliantly here. The plot is clever and the puzzles complex. I loved that all of the characters had real motivations and their own goals for their actions. That includes the Penguin and Cat Woman. I’ve always thought that superhero films do themselves a disservice by trying to shoehorn in too many bad guys. It works here because there are no long backstory sequences. The characters are just living their lives in the city.

Robert Pattinson is an excellent Batman. He’s clearly been through trauma. I appreciated the personal growth he goes through during the film and the revelation about being The Batman he makes at the end.

There are some great action sequences and some amazing cinematography.

While I can understand why they used it (it’s something a real person could easily get a hold of) Cat Woman’s knit hat/mask combo looked odd with her leather catsuit. I also wasn’t a fan of the rather over the top gothic flourishes in Bruce’s house/apartment? (Wayne manor? it kind of looked like he lived in the office tower so I wasn’t quite sure where this was). The architectural details made doorways weirdly narrow and looked so impractical and out of place.

The film ends with a message of hope that’s been missing from other recent DC movies. Yes, there are still problems, but they can be fixed if people work for the common good.

I didn’t think it was possible for me to like a Batman film more than The Dark Knight, but this has done it. It’s excellent, go see it.

Tuesday, 26 April 2022

Book Review: Nettle and Bone by T. Kingfisher

Pros: light romance, fun magic, interesting world

Cons: some readers might be put off that certain matters are skirted over

Marra’s older sister is married to the prince of their larger neighbouring kingdom. After a death and some unpleasant revelations, Marra is determined to save her sister, like a hero in the stories she read as a child. But how does one become a hero, and how do you kill a prince?

The opening of this book grabbed me by the throat and immediately pulled me into its world. Though the plot has some unpleasant elements the book on the whole is surprisingly upbeat. I loved the subtle humour, especially when the romance thread entered.

Marra doesn’t do politics well, which is a problem for a princess. It was nice seeing her build a group of friends who helped with her quest. They’re a quirky bunch and a lot of fun to read about. I loved Kingfisher’s take on the godmother mythos.

The magic is never explained and appears in various guises. There’s a goblin market, a woman who can talk to the dead, and Marra is able to complete two impossible fairytale quests.

I needed a lighthearted read so I appreciated that the book glossed over the disturbing elements of child death and physical abuse. Some readers might be put off the fact that the author doesn’t show the full fallout of these impactful events. I had the impression Marra was supposed to be neurodivergent, and so she doesn’t pick up on things the way others do. As the point of view character, this colours how the reader sees the world as well.

I found the story quick moving and compelling. This is an uplifting book with an excellent wrap-up that leaves you feeling content with the world.

Thursday, 14 April 2022

Shout-Out: Dark Lullaby by Polly Ho-Yen

For fans of Black Mirror and The Handmaid’s Tale, a mother desperately tries to keep her family together in a society where parenting standards are strictly monitored.


The world is suffering an infertility crisis, the last natural birth was over twenty years ago and now the only way to conceive is through a painful fertility treatment. Any children born are strictly monitored, and if you are deemed an unfit parent then your child is extracted. After witnessing so many struggling to conceive – and then keep – their babies, Kit thought she didn’t want children. But then she meets Thomas and they have a baby girl, Mimi. Soon the small mistakes build up and suddenly Kit is faced with the possibility of losing her daughter, and she is forced to ask herself how far she will go to keep her family together.

Tuesday, 12 April 2022

Book Review: Saint Death’s Daughter by C. S. E. Cooney

Pros: fascinating magic and mythology, interesting characters, great world-building

Cons:

Miscellaneous ‘Lanie’ Stones is the first necromancer born in over 100 years in the city of Liriat. Her family has been the right hands of the ruling Brackenwild family since the founding, acting as royal executioners and assassins. Which makes Lanie’s allergy to violence a challenge to manage. So she’s raised by the family’s revenant, Goody Graves. After a series of events leaves her older, sadistic sister Nita in charge, Lanie’s life changes. As she grows both in wisdom and power, Lanie struggles to live up to the expectations of the past and forge her own future.

Lanie is a wonderful character, surprisingly kind and loving despite her limited human contact and dysfunctional home life. Necromancy is usually depicted as evil and gross, so seeing Lanie’s pure joy in her power and love of the creatures she reanimates is nice to see. I also loved this depiction of the goddess of death.

The larger cast is a mix of nice and terrible characters. Nita is simply horrifying, willing to use her power of fascination to force people to do her will. I had real sympathy for Mak and the abuses he suffers. Canon Lir was intriguing, and the friends Lanie makes later in the book were a lot of fun to hang out with.

The world-building was great, with several distinct cultures represented. I was impressed with the depth of detail given to each culture, making them feel very real.

The story is slow moving at times, giving you the chance to really get to know the characters and world.

The ending left me feeling melancholic. This is the first book in a trilogy so while a few story threads are tied up, there are some major threads left unresolved. It’s an ending that I had to sit with for a few hours to better understand and appreciate.

It’s a great book that does some unique things.

Tuesday, 5 April 2022

Book Review: Amazing Gardens of the World: Spectacular Classic and Contemporary Gardens by Vivienne Hambly

Pros: lots of gorgeous photos, showcases a large number of gardens

Cons:

This is a gorgeous book. The photos are large and plentiful, with a wide variety of shots. The book covers gardens from around the globe with chapters on Europe, Africa and the Middle East, Asia, Australasia and the Pacific, and North and South America. Each chapter and the book itself get a single page introduction.

Most gardens get 1-2 photos, with a few getting as many as 7. Each garden has a short description explaining when it was planted/cultivated and, if known, who designed it.

The chapter on Africa and the Middle East is quite short, as there apparently aren’t that many large scale ornamental gardens there. But the photos of the gardens included are magnificent.

I got a digital copy, so I can’t judge the paper quality.

If you like gardens or need a book to help calm your mind with beautiful imagery, this is a good choice.

Out April 12th.

Thursday, 31 March 2022

Books Received in March 2022

 Many thanks to Sourcebooks Fire for the following advance reader copy.

Monsters Born and Made by Tanvi Berwah - This is the kind of YA book that catches my eye. Great cover and interesting, Hunger Games style premise. Out September 6th.


Perfect for fans of The Hunger Games and Fable, this South Asian-inspired fantasy is a gripping debut about the power of the elite, the price of glory, and one girl's chance to change it all.

 

Sixteen-year-old Koral and her older brother Emrik risk their lives each day to capture the monstrous maristags that live in the black seas around their island. They have to, or else their family will starve.

In an oceanic world swarming with vicious beasts, the Landers—the ruling elite, have indentured Koral's family to provide the maristags for the Glory Race, a deadly chariot tournament reserved for the upper class. The winning contender receives gold and glory. The others—if they're lucky—survive.

When the last maristag of the year escapes and Koral has no new maristag to sell, her family's financial situation takes a turn for the worse and they can't afford medicine for her chronically ill little sister. Koral's only choice is to do what no one in the world has ever dared: cheat her way into the Glory Race.

But every step of the way is unpredictable as Koral races against competitors—including her ex-boyfriend—who have trained for this their whole lives and who have no intention of letting a low-caste girl steal their glory. As a rebellion rises and rogues attack Koral to try and force her to drop out, she must choose—her life or her sister's—before the whole island burns.

Tuesday, 29 March 2022

Book Review: A Forgery of Roses by Jessica S. Olson

Pros: realistic characters, excellent romance, interesting magic system

Cons:

It’s been a year since Myra Whitlock’s parents vanished and with her sister sick, she’s desperate for money. The governor’s wife discovers Myra’s a Prodigy, a magician who can use paintings to change reality, and offers her a lot of money to resurrect her son. But the governor hates Prodigies and using magic comes with a cost. It’s quickly apparent that the son’s death might not have been accidental after all and Myra’s secret may not be the only thing at stake with this job.

There are three main threads in this book, the murder mystery, a romance, and the family love that causes Myra to risk everything to save her sister. The threads interweave beautifully. The writing occasionally veers into poetry with a lot of gothic overtones.

Myra is a complicated woman who has dreams of going to art school that are frustrated by her lack of money and her inability to control her magic. Her sister has a chronic illness they can’t identify and so don’t know how to properly treat. August has anxiety issues and has spent his life subsuming his desires and personality to save face for his family. None of the characters’ problems are easily solved and that makes them feel realistic. I loved how they variously helped each other deal with their mental and physical health issues, like Myra helping August breathe slowly to get through a panic attack.

I appreciated that magic couldn’t hand wave away illness or poverty and that there’s a physical cost to the user. It makes it feel like a precious commodity, hard earned and so used sparingly.

The ending wrapped things up in a satisfying manner.

Thursday, 24 March 2022

Shout-Out: A Magical Inheritance by Krista D. Ball

Miss Elizabeth Knight received an unexpected legacy upon her uncle’s death: a collection of occult books. When one of the books begins talking to her, she discovers an entire world of female occultist history opened to her—a legacy the Royal Occult Society had purposely hidden from the world. However, the magic allowing the book to speak to Miss Knight is fading and she must gather a group of female acquaintances of various talents. Together, they’ll need to work to overcome social pressures, ambitious men, and tyrannical parents, all to bring Mrs. Egerton, the book ghost, back.

Tuesday, 22 March 2022

Book Review: The City of Dusk by Tara Sim

Pros: lots of intrigue, interesting fleshed out characters with realistic motivations, multiple forms of magic, good fight scenes

Cons:

The city of Nexus sits at the crossroads of the realms of the four gods. Since the Sealing 500 years ago they’ve been cut off from the other realms and their world is slowly dying because of it. The four houses are descendants of liaisons between past royals and the gods, and use their magic to help the people as they vie for the throne. Two of the house heirs want to unseal the pathways to save their realm, while the other 2 want political power and the ability to master their gods’ magic. Meanwhile, conjurors, practitioners of forbidden demon magic, have started creating havoc in the city. Godsnight is approaching, when the planets align and with it the heirs’ best hope of breaking the sealing. But what can four humans achieve when the gods have other plans?

There’s a lot going on in this book and you’ll spend the first few chapters trying to get a handle on the heirs, their houses, their various forms of magic, the political intrigues everyone is involved in and the characters various personal goals and problems. There is a handy guide at the start of the book that gives the house name, their god, the family members, and form of magic. Refer to it often until you get to know who’s who.

The characters were all fully fleshed out with varied motivations. Things rarely went in directions I expected and it was a delight seeing what each one would do next. Two of the heirs had overbearing parents and trouble mastering their magic. The other two had easy mastery but other problems to deal with. It was fun watching the various sibling relationships as well, some loving and others confrontational. The different family units felt realistic, including the dysfunctional ones.

The magic was cool. My favourite power was House Vakara’s necromancy, but seeing the light and shadow magics was fun. You don’t see as much of the elemental magic, given Angelica’s difficulties, though you do see others wield the power. The conjuration circles and learning how demon magic worked in this world was also interesting.

The worldbuilding was well done. In addition to the realms and magic, the principle world has several cultures, all represented in Nexus.

The plot is very complex and when the revelations started happening at the end I’d figured out a few twists while others were a complete surprise. There are some great battles, including a massive, multi-chapter one at the end.

If you like dark fantasy with complex characters and multiple plot threads, interesting magic with great worldbuilding, then give this a go. Just be aware that it’s the first of a series and the ending will leave you wanting more.

Thursday, 17 March 2022

Shout-Out: The Reinvented Heart edited by Jennifer Brozek and Cat Rambo

What happens when emotions like love and friendship span vast distances ― in space, in time, and in the heart?

Science fiction often focuses on future technology and science without considering the ways social structures will change as tech changes ― or not. What will relationships look like in a complicated future of clones, uploaded intelligences, artificial brains, or body augmentation? What stories emerge when we acknowledge possibilities of new genders and ways of thinking about them?


The Reinvented Heart presents stories that complicate sex and gender by showing how shifting technology may affect social attitudes and practices, stories that include relationships with communities and social groups, stories that reinvent traditional romance tropes and recast them for the 21st century, and above all, stories that experiment, astonish, and entertain.
 
Authors include:
Jane Yolen, Seanan McGuire, AnaMaria Curtis, Lisa Morton, Madeline Pine, Sam Fleming, Felicity Drake, Premee Mohamed, Beth Cato, Naomi Kritzer, Sophie Giroir, Maria Dong, Lyda Morehouse, Devin Miller, Aimee Ogden, Anita Ensal, Fran Wilde, Mercedes M. Yardley, Lauren RIng, Xander Odell, Rosemary Claire Smith, Justina Robson.

Ebook out now, print version out May 31.

Tuesday, 15 March 2022

Publication dates

 The pandemic has affected everything in life, including supply chains and, as an aspect of that, publication dates. Several times I've sat down to post a review for a book I read several months ago, only to find out that the book's release date has been pushed back a few weeks or months.

Given what I've been reading on twitter recently about the number of editors and other publishing industry personnel leaving their jobs, we may face more delays in the future. I suspect that the publishing industry will need to change - in a lot of ways - if it wants to survive as a business. And having larger publishing houses swallow up all the smaller ones isn't going to fix what appear to be real systemic problems in the industry.

Thursday, 10 March 2022

Shout-Out: The Gilded Ones by Namina Forna

Sixteen-year-old Deka lives in fear and anticipation of the blood ceremony that will determine whether she will become a member of her village. Already different from everyone else because of her unnatural intuition, Deka prays for red blood so she can finally feel like she belongs.

But on the day of the ceremony, her blood runs gold, the color of impurity–and Deka knows she will face a consequence worse than death.

Then a mysterious woman comes to her with a choice: stay in the village and submit to her fate, or leave to fight for the emperor in an army of girls just like her. They are called alaki–near-immortals with rare gifts. And they are the only ones who can stop the empire's greatest threat.

Knowing the dangers that lie ahead yet yearning for acceptance, Deka decides to leave the only life she's ever known. But as she journeys to the capital to train for the biggest battle of her life, she will discover that the great walled city holds many surprises. Nothing and no one are quite what they seem to be–not even Deka herself.

Tuesday, 1 March 2022

Books Received in January and February 2022

I've been busy with other projects and not taking as much care with my blog, hence being a month late with this post. My thanks, as always, to the publishers who sent me books to review. I don't have much time for pleasure reading at the moment so I've tried to be careful with what books I request. Lucky for me, there are a lot of brilliant books being published right now.

Amazing Gardens of the World by Vivienne Hambly - I requested this on NetGalley, needing something to take my mind off of *waves at the world*. It's a beautiful book with a lot of gorgeous pictures of magnificent gardens from around the world. A much needed palate cleanse. Out April 12th.

From the gardens of the Palace of Versailles to Beatrix Potter's garden in the Lake District, from Monet's garden in France to the Tivoli Gardens in Rome, from the Japanese garden in Portland, Oregon, to city gardens in Tokyo, this book is a wide-ranging celebration of all types of gardens around the globe.


Including formal French gardens and English landscape gardens; famous botanical gardens and little-known curiosities; Iranian and Persian gardens; grand, country-house gardens and inner-city gardens; Zen gardens, strolling Japanese gardens and Chinese gardens; medicinal gardens and one poison garden; knot gardens and Roman gardens, Amazing Gardens of the World explores a huge variety of the approaches and uses of gardening around the world over millennia. In telling the stories of these places, the book touches on the lives of the people who worked in them, designed them, and owned them—people such as Prince Charles, Capability Brown, Gertrude Jekyll, Edith Wharton, and Agatha Christie. Amazing Gardens of the World not only champions the splendor of the world's most magnificent gardens but also reveals many fascinating stories about the history of these places and the people who created them.

Saint Death's Daughter by C. S. E. Cooney - I recently finished The Heroine's Journey by Gail Carriger, so I was better able to appreciate the ways in which Cooney brings that literary journey to life. I loved the magic and the protagonist in this excellent story. Out April 12th.

Nothing complicates life like Death.


Lanie Stones, the daughter of the Royal Assassin and Chief Executioner of Liriat, has never led a normal life. Born with a gift for necromancy and a literal allergy to violence, she was raised in isolation in the family’s crumbling mansion by her oldest friend, the ancient revenant Goody Graves.

When her parents are murdered, it falls on Lanie and her cheerfully psychotic sister Nita to settle their extensive debts or lose their ancestral home—and Goody with it. Appeals to Liriat's ruler to protect them fall on indifferent ears… until she, too, is murdered, throwing the nation's future into doubt.

Hunted by Liriat’s enemies, hounded by her family’s creditors and terrorised by the ghost of her great-grandfather, Lanie will need more than luck to get through the next few months—but when the goddess of Death is on your side, anything is possible.

The Middling Affliction
by Alex Shvartsman
- I just heard about this one, which has a very interesting premise. Out May 31st [ETA I previously mentioned the release date as April 12th but it has been pushed back due to the pandemic and stocking issues].

What would you do if you lost everything that mattered to you, as well as all means to protect yourself and others, but still had to save the day? Conrad Brent is about to find out.


Conrad Brent protects the people of Brooklyn from monsters and magical threats. The snarky, wisecracking guardian also has a dangerous secret: he’s one in a million – literally.

Magical ability comes to about one in every 30,000 and can manifest at any age. Conrad is rarer than this, however. He’s a middling, one of the half-gifted and totally despised. Most of the gifted community feels that middlings should be instantly killed. The few who don’t flat out hate them still aren’t excited to be around middlings. Meaning Conrad can’t tell anyone, not even his best friends, what he really is.

Conrad hides in plain sight by being a part of the volunteer Watch, those magically gifted who protect their cities from dangerous, arcane threats. And, to pay the bills, Conrad moonlights as a private detective and monster hunter for the gifted community. Which helps him keep up his personal fiction – that he’s a magical version of Batman. Conrad does both jobs thanks to charms, artifacts, and his wits, along with copious amounts of coffee. But little does he know that events are about to change his life…forever.

When Conrad discovers the Traveling Fair auction house has another middling who’s just manifested her so-called powers on the auction block, he’s determined to save her, regardless of risk. But what he finds out while doing so is even worse – the winning bidder works for a company that’s just created the most dangerous chemical weapon to ever hit the magical community.

Before Conrad can convince anyone at the Watch of the danger, he’s exposed for what he really is. Now, stripped of rank, magical objects, friends and allies, Conrad has to try to save the world with only his wits. Thankfully though, no one’s taken away his coffee.

Nettle and Bone
by T. Kingfisher
- I started reading this yesterday and it's already a stand out in a year of incredible books. The opening simply grabs you and drags you under. Out April 26.

This isn't the kind of fairytale where the princess marries a prince.

It's the one where she kills him.

Marra never wanted to be a hero.

As the shy, convent-raised, third-born daughter, she escaped the traditional fate of princesses, to be married away for the sake of an uncaring throne. But her sister wasn’t so fortunate—and after years of silence, Marra is done watching her suffer at the hands of a powerful and abusive prince.

Seeking help for her rescue mission, Marra is offered the tools she needs, but only if she can complete three seemingly impossible tasks:

—build a dog of bones

—sew a cloak of nettles

—capture moonlight in a jar

But, as is the way in tales of princes and witches, doing the impossible is only the beginning.

Hero or not—now joined by a disgraced ex-knight, a reluctant fairy godmother, an enigmatic gravewitch and her fowl familiar—Marra might finally have the courage to save her sister, and topple a throne.

Thursday, 24 February 2022

Shout-Out: Artifact Space by Miles Cameron

Out in the darkness of space, something is targeting the Greatships. With their vast cargo holds and a crew that could fill a city, the Greatships are the lifeblood of human occupied space, transporting an unimaginable volume - and value - of goods from City, the greatest human orbital, all the way to Tradepoint at the other, to trade for xenoglas with an unknowable alien species.

It has always been Marca Nbaro's dream to achieve the near-impossible: escape her upbringing and venture into space.

All it took, to make her way onto the crew of the Greatship Athens was thousands of hours in simulators, dedication, and pawning or selling every scrap of her old life in order to forge a new one. But though she's made her way onboard with faked papers, leaving her old life - and scandals - behind isn't so easy.

She may have just combined all the dangers of her former life, with all the perils of the new . . .

Tuesday, 22 February 2022

Video: Introduction to Islamicate Occult Sciences

 I've been learning more about other religions lately, and how they view various magical practices (both those on the religious side, as well as the occult side) and stumbled across this video by Filip Holm at Let's Talk Religion. This is the first in a series of videos on magic in the Islamicate world over the centuries (in the 'shocktober' playlist). He's got videos on other religions too, which I may check out once I'm done with this series.

Tuesday, 15 February 2022

Book Review: Mickey7 by Edward Ashton

Pros: great premise, interesting characters

Cons:

Mickey Barnes is the expendable for the Niflheim beachhead colony, which means if there’s a dangerous job, he’s the one doing it. So it’s not surprising that when his seventh iteration falls into a deep hole he’s left for dead. Unfortunately when he makes it back to base a new copy of himself is sleeping in his bed. Multiples are the biggest taboo, so the Mickeys must hide what they are even as trouble is brewing with the planet’s indigenous lifeforms.

This book was a lot of fun to read. It’s quick paced and engaging, with Mickey7 including important incidents from his past while narrating the events of the present.

I went from thinking of Mickey7 as a decent guy, then kind of a jerk, then back to being a decent guy. Some of his history paints him in a bad light though it seems dying multiple times has improved his character somewhat. I really liked Nasha and thought their relationship was great.

The book poses some interesting ethical questions without delving too deeply into them or dwelling on them for long. It’s mostly a lighthearted read.

The world-building was great. There was a lot more explanation about the larger universe than I expected, with Mickey explaining things about life on his homeworld, Midgard, and some of the other colonies (successful & failed).

The ending ties together all the various narratives Mickey throws at you. I especially loved how his study of history gave him insight into how to think of the native species.

If you like easygoing, sometimes humorous, sometimes serious SF, give this a go.

Thursday, 10 February 2022

Shout-Out: Africa Risen: A New Era of Speculative Fiction, edited by Sheree Renée Thomas, Oghenechovwe Donald Ekpeki and Zelda Knight

Coming November 2022

From an award-winning team of editors comes an anthology of thirty-two original stories showcasing the breadth of fantasy and science fiction from Africa and the African Diaspora.


A group of cabinet ministers query a supercomputer containing the minds of the country's ancestors. A child robot on a dying planet uncovers signs of fragile new life. A descendent of a rain goddess inherits her grandmother's ability to change her appearance-and perhaps the world.

Created in the legacy of the seminal, award-winning anthology series Dark Matter, Africa Risen celebrates the vibrancy, diversity, and reach of African and Afro-Diasporic SFF and reaffirms that Africa is not rising-it's already here.

Table of Contents
  • “Introduction” by Sheree Renée Thomas, Oghenechovwe Donald Ekpeki, and Zelda Knight
  • “The Blue House” by Dilman Dila
  • “March Magic” by WC Dunlap
  • “IRL” by Steven Barnes
  • “The Deification of Igodo” by Joshua Omenga
  • “Mami Wataworks” by Russell Nichols
  • “Rear Mirror” by Nuzo Onoh
  • “Door Crashers” by Franka Zeph
  • “Lady Rainbow” by Yvette Lisa Ndlovu
  • “A Dream of Electric Mothers” by Wole Talabi
  • “Simbi” by Sandra Jackson-Opoku
  • “Housewarming for a Lion Goddess” by Aline-Mwezi Niyonsenga
  • “A Knight in Tunisia” by Alex Jennings
  • “The Devil Is Us” by Mirette Bahgat
  • “Cloud Mine” by Timi Odueso
  • “Ruler of the Rear Guard” by Maurice Broaddus
  • “Peeling Time (Deluxe Edition)” by Tlotlo Tsamaase
  • “The Sugar Mill” by Tobias S. Buckell
  • “The Carving of War” by Somto Ihezue Onyedikachi
  • “Ghost Ship” by Tananarive Due
  • “Liquid Twilight” by Ytasha L. Womack
  • “Once Upon a Time in 1967” by Oyedotun Damilola
  • “A Girl Crawls in a Dark Corner” by Alexis Brooks de Vita
  • “The Lady of the Yellow-Painted Library” by Tobi Ogundiran
  • “When the Mami Wata Met a Demon” by Moustapha Mbacké Diop
  • “The Papermakers” by Akua Lezli Hope
  • “A Soul of Small Places” by Mame Bougouma Diene and Woppa Diallo
  • “Air to Shape Lungs” by Shingai Njeri Kagunda
  • “Hanfo Driver” by Ada Nnadi
  • “Exiles of Witchery” by Ivana Akotowaa Ofori
  • “The Taloned Beast” by Chinelo Onwualu
  • “Star Watchers” by Danian Darrell Jerry
  • “Biscuit and Milk” by Dare Segun Falowo

Tuesday, 8 February 2022

Shout-Out: Seven Devils by Laura Lam and Elizabeth May

This first book in a feminist space opera duology follows seven resistance fighters who will free the galaxy from the ruthless Tholosian Empire--or die trying.

When Eris faked her death, she thought she had left her old life as the heir to the galaxy's most ruthless empire behind. But her recruitment by the Novantaen Resistance, an organization opposed to the empire's voracious expansion, throws her right back into the fray.

Eris has been assigned a new mission: to infiltrate a spaceship ferrying deadly cargo and return the intelligence gathered to the Resistance. But her partner for the mission, mechanic and hotshot pilot Cloelia, bears an old grudge against Eris, making an already difficult infiltration even more complicated.

When they find the ship, they discover more than they bargained for: three fugitives with firsthand knowledge of the corrupt empire's inner workings.

Together, these women possess the knowledge and capabilities to bring the empire to its knees. But the clock is ticking: the new heir to the empire plans to disrupt a peace summit with the only remaining alien empire, ensuring the empire’s continued expansion. If they can find a way to stop him, they will save the galaxy. If they can't, millions may die.

Tuesday, 1 February 2022

Book Review: A Guide to Medieval Gardens: Gardens in the Age of Chivalry by Michael Brown

Pros: lots of photographs, interesting information

Cons: superficial, some chapters could have used more depth

This is a general guide on medieval gardens, specifically in England, that consists of 13 chapters, a conclusion and a quick listing of medieval gardens in England that can be visited. The chapters are all fairly short and to the point. They are: Evidence of Medieval Gardens, Influences of European Medieval Gardens, Monastic and Sacred Gardens, Secular Gardens, Medieval Garden Features, Water in the Garden, Parks and Pleasure Parks, The Plants of the Medieval Garden, The Medieval Gardener, The Gardener’s Tools and Equipment, Cultivation Techniques, The Medieval Gardening Year and Making your own Medieval Garden.

The first few chapters give background on how we know what little we know, and what types of gardens were grown. I enjoyed the later chapters more as they got more specific regarding the types of plants you could find and going over individual tools that gardeners used.

I wished some of the sections were fleshed out more. It felt like just as you got into a topic and wanted to know more of the deeper details the chapter ended. I can understand that there’s limited information but the author worked on medieval gardens at the Prebendal Manor and I would have enjoyed hearing more about things he learned from practical experience trying out medieval tools and techniques. For example, the chapter on making your own medieval garden simply mentions having a water source and gives some general advice. There’s no sample layout with ideas of what plants fit well together. I’d have loved to see a few photos from the gardens he maintained, including what he chose to grow where).

There is a good number of colour photographs illustrating what the author is discussing. I enjoyed the mix of the author’s photos and images from medieval sources, misericords and manuscripts. Not every tool got an image, and in some cases, like the spud, I would have appreciated a photo to better understand the tool as I’ve never heard of it before and the description left me somewhat unsure of what it looked like.

If you’re new to medieval gardens this is an excellent primer that goes over the basics and then some. If you’ve read a couple of books on the topic already, some of the later chapters may still hold useful information for you.

Wednesday, 26 January 2022

Angry Robot Open Submissions Period for Novels coming in February

I got an email with the following information regarding the Angry Robot Open Submissions period that's coming up in February. If you've got an SF/F/H manuscript ready to go and no agent, this might be an excellent opportunity for you.

The Angry Robot Open Submissions Period is Coming Back!

We are delighted to announce the Angry Robot Open Submissions Period is happening once again! Our submissions are open from the 21st to the 28th of February to SFF/Horror writers without agent representation.

The AR team are very excited to see what fantastically weird and spellbinding SFF novels you submit. In the past, our Open Submissions have led to the publication of many of our well-loved books, including both our January publications, ‘Deep Dive’ by Ron Walters and ‘Obsidian’ by Sarah J. Daley! This is your chance to wow us with your manuscripts. We’re looking for new and exciting stories, and particularly encourage writers of colour and LGBTQ+ authors to submit. Send in your stories – we promise to take care of them.

The Submission period will run for one week, from Monday the 21st of February to Monday 28th February. We don’t prioritise early submissions, so take the time you need to polish your documents before you send them in!

To apply, please send us:
– A sample that consists of the first three chapters of your work (or first fifteen pages if the chapters are short).
– A synopsis of the full work in a separate Word document.
– An elevator pitch and author bio in your email.

We are looking for:
– Novel length works.
– Science Fiction, Fantasy and Horror.
– Adult fiction.
– Finished manuscripts.

We are NOT looking for:
– Short story collections or novellas.
– Young Adult Fiction.
– Works in Progress.
– Works that have been submitted to our Open Submissions before – unless they have had a significant rework (rewritten or structurally edited completely).
– Previously published works.

More details on where to send your submissions will be released soon.

If we like your submission, we will get in touch to request the full manuscript and go from there! Only one submission per author, and remember that the Open Submissions period is exclusively for authors who do not have an agent.

We can’t wait to read your amazing stories!

Friday, 21 January 2022

Witches Frolic Kickstarter

I was contacted by Inkdrop Studio regarding their kickstarter project to bring back into print the story "Witches Frolic" from Ingoldsby Legends, by Thomas Ingoldsby (the pen name of Richard Harris Barham). The edition they want to reprint is from 1888 with illustrations by Ernest M. Jessop.



The rewards start at 5 Euro, for a digital edition. Check out their kickstarter page if you're interested in learning more. 

Tuesday, 18 January 2022

Book Review: Servant Mage by Kate Elliott

Pros: interesting politics, fascinating magic system, fun characters

Cons: too short

Fellian is rescued from her indentured servitude by a group of Monarchists who need her help as a Lamp - a fire mage. But are the Monarchists really any better than the liberationists that overthrew them years ago?

This is a novella so you’re not getting the in dept world-building you might be hoping for. It’s a bit of a shame as the world is interesting and I’d have loved to learn more about the politics and magic. I loved the idea that human magic is caused by demon-wraiths nesting in their bones. The politics were complicated and messy as expected when a revolution has recently occurred.

Fellian asks a lot of questions, annoying her companions but giving the reader vital information. She’s clever and resourceful. Her team is an interesting mix and I enjoyed their dynamic.

The book is fast paced and compelling.

This is a quick, enjoyable read.

Tuesday, 11 January 2022

Music box wooden model

I got this model for Christmas and spent several hours over two days putting it together. It plays a song from the Ghibli film Castle in the Sky when you wind it up. Though the online listing proclaims 'no glue required', it not only came with glue, but most steps required gluing pieces together, which I thought was hilarious. It's a nice looking piece, but a bit finicky and not the most stable. You have to carefully cup the upper part of the bottom to turn it, because the dowels used for the stand are quite thin and won't survive long if you twist it holding the base.






Tuesday, 4 January 2022

Book Review: Where the Drowned Girls Go by Seanan McGuire

Pros: thought provoking, plus sized protagonist, interesting story

Cons:

Cora Miller is still having nightmares months after returning from the Moors and no longer believes Eleanor West’s Home for Wayward Children can help her. So she transfers to the other school for children who have found doors to other worlds, Whitethorn. Upon arrival she realizes she’s made a terrible mistake. But while it’s easy to enter Whitethorn, it’s very hard to leave.

This is the 7th novella in the Wayward Children series and relies on knowledge of the prior books to really work. You find out what happened to Regan after the events of Across the Green Grass Fields as Cora deals with the trauma of visiting the Moors in Come Tumbling Down.

Cora is a fantastic character and though it’s not her origin story (so no mermaid adventures in the Trenches) it was wonderful watching her grow and realize that she doesn’t need to be in a portal world to be a hero. And that sometimes you just have to deal with your problems head on.

I found the book thought provoking as it pointed out some of the daily horrors humans inflict on each other, especially towards those with larger bodies.

The story is engaging and the perfect length.